eet Janet Reid, an agent on the scene. She's sharp, witty, and on top of her game. As we emailed back and forth, she casually mentioned a bit of news in the publishing world—Did you see the Public Editor of NYT take the Questions For Reporter to task on Sunday?
I scratched my head and thought, “Oh, this is something I should know!” So I quickly googled “Public Editor of NYT” (yes, I’m from California and a little west-coast centric) and discovered what she was talking about. It was a great article, by the way, and you can see it here.
What impressed me is how ‘in the know’ Janet is, and the fact that she thinks I am too! She’s one of those agents who you’d never have to doubt because she’s extremely knowledgeable and seems like she can tackle the world with her repartee.
Janet Reid loves mysteries and offbeat literary fiction. Her publishing background includes fifteen years in book publicity with clients both famous and infamous. She was also the long time host of “Profiles,” an author interview radio program that airs on GH Radio Network, part of Oregon Public Broadcasting.
She is actively looking for projects that show mastery of craft and originality. Recent sales include The Electric Church by Jeff Somers (Orbit: 2007); Dreaming of Gwen Stefani by Even Mandery (Ig: 2007); Master Detective by John Reisinger (Kensington: 2006); lost dog by Bill Cameron (Midnight Ink: 2007); Grave Imports by Eric Stone (Bleak House: 2007).
Ms. Reid was a board member of the NYC chapter of the Women’s National Book Association and the chair of the program committee for the organization.
She’s also a fun interviewee, so pull up a chair and get to know Janet Reid of FinePrint Literary Management.
1.Welcome, Janet, we’re thrilled to be chatting with you today. I read in a market guide that you’ve worked more than fifteen years in book publicity and had your own agency, JETREID Literary. What prompted you to join the Imprint Agency and finally the FinePrint Literary Agency?
I never intended to be a solo practitioner. My first agency partner withdrew after a year for health and personal reasons, so I pressed on alone. When Stephany Evans approached me to join Imprint, I leaped at the chance. It was fabulous to have a pool of knowledge to draw from and Stephany’s name opened doors. She’s a very smart, very respected agent. This business runs on relationships, so moving to Imprint was a welcome step up for me. Imprint merging with Peter Rubie to form FinePrint was another big step up. We’re now one of the larger agencies in town and we can offer a lot to our clients.
2.Congratulations! That’s one of the things I noticed right away—quite a huge merger! On the FinePrint Literary Agency website, it states that it’s a “full-service” agency. What does that mean exactly, and what are the advantages of working with a full-service agency?
My colleagues at FinePrint are going to roll their eyes when they see this question because “full service agency” is a phrase I’ve mocked every time I’ve seen it. What the heck is a “half service agency” anyway? What it’s intended to mean is we can do pretty much everything the client needs in-house: fiction, non-fiction, sub rights, film rights.
3.(laughs) Okay, that makes sense. I thought I was missing out on a secret agency term. So let’s start with a question for newbies... Can you tell us a bit about what an agent does for her client?
We know the details of publishing and how to get things done for a client. We know what publishers are looking for, how to persuade them to acquire things, how to write a contract that protects an author’s intellectual property, and how to solve problems.
4.Yes, I’ve heard those contracts are a bear! Now that I think about it, the name “FinePrint” is fitting. And if an author wants to be published by a big house, she’s got to have an agent to take her there. So in your opinion, what’s the best way for a author to research an agent to find out if they’re a good fit for her work?
It’s a three-step approach. Get a copy of Writers Market or Guide to Literary Agents. Read through it to see which agents work with the kind of book the author has. Make a list of those agents. Second, look at the websites for those agents on the new list. Look at the books they feature. Read what they say. Third, go to the library and read some books from the top five to ten agents on the list. See if you like the books.
I can hear someone say, “That sounds like a lot of work, can’t I just send you a query?” and the answer to that is “Yes, you can.” There’s too much emphasis on finding the right agent to query. I think authors should query more rather than less. I have three projects on my desk right now that you’d not have a clue I’d love were you to look at my website or my listing in Writers Market.
“Query letters are a VERY small part of my day.”
5.That’s so true. From interviewing agents, I’ve found that they say things completely different from what the market guides state—maybe because the guides are outdated, or maybe because current needs change. I love your advice of ‘querying more, rather than less’—that’s truly helpful. So how should an author query you?
A query letter and the first 3-5 pages of a novel for fiction. A query letter for non-fiction.
6.So as an agent, you must look at queries all day long, but do you ever see one that immediately captures your attention? And if so, what would a query like this entail?
Ah, I don’t look at queries all day. Query letters are a VERY small part of my day. I read them for about half an hour first thing in the morning while I drink coffee and persuade myself not to run away and join the circus.
I see queries all the time that capture my interest. The one thing they have in common is compelling voice. They usually have a fresh approach to a plot, or an interesting concept. If it’s non-fiction, it’s generally something that makes me think, “Oh I want to know more about that.”
7.I bet you’d be the lion tamer! Seriously though, that makes sense; it’s like capturing a reader’s attention...a reader with a lot more knowledge of the business!
As authors, we put so much emphasis on the query—there are even “query services”—websites that charge membership fees for submitting queries. How do you feel about these types of services, and can you tell that a query comes from them?
I think they’re a waste of money. I routinely reject them because the query letters don’t sound fresh or interesting. They sound like a form letter, and worse a form letter from a telephone solicitor.
8.That’s good to know. You heard it ladies, don’t waste your hard-earned money! And of course these websites are just a part of our ever-growing technology. In your opinion, how has the internet helped and/or hindered your job as an agent?
I’m not sure about helped or hindered but it sure has changed it. For starters, I can work from home one day a week and not miss a beat. Second, I can send material electronically which speeds things up a lot. Third, I can now do a lot of my own fact checking; whereas before, I was tied to the reference librarian’s hours and availability. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s been a huge change for me.
9.Oh, I agree completely. It’s strange to think that children coming into the world now will probably never know of the time when our only reference was to dig into card catalogs at the library!
Janet, you mentioned before that authors should query more rather than less—let’s say that an author queries you with an amazing idea, but it’s not in the category you usually agent. Would you decide to take it on, or refer it to another agent in your agency?
We pass projects around all the time here. I routinely get crime novel queries from everyone. I pass along self-help, and spiritual stuff too. The problem though is that when a project isn’t right for me, I have no way to tell if it’s a good project, just not right for me. An author would do well to query every agent here, rather than just one.
“I’m not an editor, but I play one
most evenings from 8-11.”
10.That’s good advice. So what are you looking for at the moment?
Fiction: crime novels. Non-fiction: history, science, biography, death penalty issues, modern and contemporary art; contemporary music (not pop music). But honestly, query me on anything. It’s 82 cents if you mail it, free if you email it. I’d rather see something and say no, than miss something fabulous.
11.With all the competing authors out there, what convinces you to take on a client?
I love the project and I want to help it have a life. If the author is good to work with, that helps a lot too.
12.So how can an author make sure she’s good to work with... is there something she can do to improve her relationship with her agent?
I don’t know. My authors have a great relationship with their agent! My authors meet their deadlines, talk to me when they’ve got issues or concerns, and keep me up to speed on what they’re doing.
13.Do you ever work with your authors to edit/rework their novel to get it ready for submission to editors?
All the time. The fewest typos I’ve found has been three. I’m currently completely restructuring a memoir to refocus it. I’m not an editor, but I play one most evenings from 8-11.
14.Besides making sure her work is polished, there are other considerations. How important is an author’s platform, audience, and website to you when you consider signing on an author?
For non-fiction it’s critical, absolutely critical. I won’t sign someone unless s/he has an established platform and audience. I can’t sell something without that!
For fiction, it’s less important at the query stage, but I get authors started on it pretty quickly. A good website is a must. An idea of how to reach readers is a must.
“I won’t sign someone unless s/he has an established platform and audience.”
15.Okay, now that we know quite a bit about you as an agent, I’d like to know a little bit about you as a radio personality. I read you used to host an author interview radio program for Oregon Public Broadcasting. I think that’s fabulous! How did you get involved in that? And where can I find recordings?
I have no idea if an archive is available. Some of them, I pray, are long extinct. I just filled in one day when someone was gone, and kept at it. It was a lot of fun. Right place at the right time kind of thing.
16.You’re also a board member of the NYC chapter of the Women's National Book Association—we at WOW! truly admire that. Please tell us what you do for this wonderful nonprofit organization, and what the benefits are.
My term on the board finished in May of this year, but I will take this opportunity to talk up WNBA. It’s a great organization of women AND men who love books. We have an eclectic membership of readers, writers, publishing professionals, and librarians. The NYC chapter offers monthly panels on various topics from October to April. Membership is $50 and gets you into the panels at no charge. It’s a very, very, good investment.
For two years, I planned the programming and did the PR. I’m back now to just being a devoted member attending events. The website www.wnba-nyc.org will have all the info someone needs.
WNBA is a national organization so if there are people interested in it who do not live in NYC there are chapters all over the country too.
17.I’m definitely checking that out. Also, I noticed that the FinePrint Literary agency participates in workshops, such as, “Crafting the Nonfiction Book Proposal.” Are you involved in any workshops or conferences that we should know about?
My blog has a list of conferences brave enough to invite me to attend (jetreidliterary.blogspot.com). I’ll be at the Surrey Conference this month, and I’m going to Kansas in April. I readily do conferences here in NYC, but getting me to leave town requires a crowbar, so you’re more likely to find my colleagues going than me.
18.Aw... I think you’ll have to get out your crowbar for BEA in Los Angeles 2008, so I can meet you! Actually, I attended BEA for the first time this year. Did you attend? If so, how was the experience?
Yes, I go every year. It’s fun, awful, exhausting, and amazing.
19.Yes, and it was very hot and humid! So, when attending a conference, how should an author approach you? Do you have any advice on ‘author etiquette’?
Bearing coffee!! Or chocolate! Or a bottle of good whisky if it’s past noon. No, in all seriousness, I’m not the damn Queen of England despite throwing myself at Prince Andrew for years. Yes, I’m an agent, but it’s just the normal rules of social and business etiquette. Don’t thrust paper at me demanding I read it and don’t talk to me in the ladies room while I contemplate the disappearance of my eyebrows as I gaze into the mirror.
On the other hand, the normal rules of social and business etiquette apply to agents as well, so I’m going to be polite to you, speak to you when spoken to, and not treat you like some sort of beggar at the publishing banquet.
(Note to self: bring coffee, chocolate, and have a stash of whiskey hidden in my purse before I meet Janet.)
We’ve tackled a lot of questions here today! Thank you for your time and insight that you’ve brought to this interview. I’ve had a lot of fun getting to know you. As we conclude, do you have any parting words of wisdom to share with our aspiring women authors?
Write. Read. Never give up. Learn, rest, rethink, but never quit.
Well put. Thank you again for taking time to answer our questions!
Ladies, to find out more about Janet Reid, visit:
Janet’s blog: http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/
FinePrint Literary Management: http://www.fineprintlit.com/
FinePrint Literary Management
240 West 35th Street Suite 500
New York, NY 10001
janet [at] fineprintlit [dot] com